Review: Empirical Water “Untitled” and “Original”

Over the past few months, Arby has been making progress on his water recipes, crafting and dialing in various waters for tea. His online store, empiricalwater.com, is launching soon, and he sent me four waters to test. So much progress has been made and I’m excited to see how these waters affect the tea world. Although Arby and I work separately, and I don’t know what these recipes specifically are, I can tell we have reasonably similar standards and ideals, so when Arby sends me water, I know to look forward to some really nice and fresh sessions. Let’s get into it.

Original:

White2tea 2020 Turtle Dove white tea – 3.3g/50ml gaiwan

This water is definitely aerated: 

You can see those little air bubbles forming

Lots of small leaves as it’s near the last of my cake, but it’s a tea I know and love. 

Original is a water that is made without a Sodastream, a la truth serum / complex syrup. This allows it to be easier to make and very concentratable. 

Turtle dove with Original sips light and floral with a richness and slight oiliness. Immediate first impressions are positive here. The taste of the tea is quite present and fills the mouth. It’s sweet and the floral notes are vivid. I’m struck by the amount of thickness in a tea so light: 

There is definitely texture without significant astringency. The tea melts in the mouth leaving behind tea oils that coat the mouth. Am I dreaming?

Now for some critique: the water is very present, but I could see it becoming fatiguing after a while. There’s a slight sharpness to the water, by no means excessive, but it does lean a bit forward. I think this is something many people will like, but I do notice it’s a bit “hot”. Perhaps the warm edition will be more calm in that respect.

I’m impressed right off the bat. Present but not too present, sweet but not too sweet, thick but not too thick, potent but not too potent. Well balanced on the forward side. 8.2/10

Note: all ratings-out-of-10 in this post are Session Ratings – more sessions would be needed to form a well-informed Water Rating.

Original Warm:

White2tea 2021 Fox down black tea 3.2g/50ml

The texture on this session feels a little flatter/more collapsed. Wet leaves smell of fruit leather, raisin and chocolate. On the second steep, a little thickness is building. The tea is sweet but there is a certain restrained or veiled quality. Velvety. 

Immediately I think I would rather drink this tea with Original non-warm. The tea has nice structure but it doesn’t have that refreshing quality that I crave. I’d say Original non-warm is more refreshing. Perhaps 20% warm and 80% original could be a nice sweet spot. 

I’m getting those bubbles I like. A good sign. I’m also feeling pretty calm while drinking these, which means these waters work well with the body. 

As my distillation setup drips away in the background, tasting this water and tea, I’m feeling proud of how far handcrafted water for tea has come. I’m also very inspired to make my own waters again in due time. 

7/10

Untitled:

2003 Hong Kong Henry conscientious prescription 

This water is an updated version of what I last reviewed. I liked the old version very much and am excited to try the update. This is a water which contains calcium carbonate and therefore requires carbonated water to produce. This increases the labor involved but also increases the possibilities for the composition of the water – mainly a reduction in sulfate, chloride and sodium. Let’s see if it’s worth the trouble:

Wet leaf smells of old wood furniture, grandma’s closet, wet sand, and the like.

I find the tea made with this water extremely friendly and gentle, yet present. Immersive. There is a je ne sais quoi here. Buttery. Huge echoes of flavor. Can’t shake the sensation of butter, like I just ate bread and butter or buttered popcorn. I’ve noticed this with some of my own waters too. 

Texture is a different kind than that of Original. With original, there was a nervous thickness and presence – with Untitled there is a calm, settled thickness and presence, with a structured hierarchy of flavors. First, a sweetness on the front of the tongue. Then, old woods on the sides traveling backward. Then, light tannins coating the mouth with buttered popcorn flavor. Then a deposit of aged fruit/citrus woody oils. Finally it all clears away into sweet buttery huigan (aftertaste). Empty cup aroma is nice too. 

This is quite elegant, the qi is great, warmth and relaxation. I like this as much as the old version, but this one is definitely different. Very refined. 

8.8/10

Untitled Warm:

Kettl tokujou sencha – 3.4g in 100ml shibo

A gorgeous sencha that rivals many gyokuro. I’ve actually made a couple waters for the fine people at Kettl to try, and got some positive feedback. If you’re in NYC, definitely visit their Brooklyn location!

I find it interesting that a warmer version of Untitled would be good for green tea, but I imagine it has something to do with a texture and umami focus. 

As an aside, the smell of the steam of all of the waters is really clean – Arby has a great filter system and probably fewer VOCs in his water supply. I should really get an undersink RO. There is a salty smell to the steam, though- I wonder what it comes from.

Oh baby. Really umami-focused sencha experience. Not as much on the front of the mouth, all toward the rear and middle. Buttered snap peas, sweetness, thickness. Purity. For me, it’s impressive, but it’s not refreshing enough. Like with Original, I would rather use the regular version of Untitled. 

This is still an elaborate, pure, direct and complex cup of sencha. On the second steep, that pure leaf/grass taste is coming through. Even a slight dryness that I like. Sweating – this is a lot of tea today! Impressive globular texture for sure. 300ml of sencha feeling like a very significant amount with this water!

7.5/10

I’ve noticed I’ve been engaged this whole time. With these waters, there’s always something new, each steep is dynamic, the tea goes to your core. With so many bottled and tap waters coming up short, these waters could change everything for many people who want to connect with their tea in that special elevated way. 

Arby noted to me that the waters are all fairly close in total mineral content, so they are very well suited for blending. This allows you to tune the water to your liking, and experiment, all while being confident your tea sessions will be nice no matter what.

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